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Carnegie library: The facts

Carnegie, one of the richest people in the world, is most famous for the many libraries he helped to establish both within and outside the U.S.

Who was Carnegie

History
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was a Scottish American entrepreneur, a steel industry pioneer in the 19th century U.S. and one of greatest philanthropists of his time. He started off as a factory worker in America and went on to built the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh in the 1870s. First Carnegie Library “It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive ... as the founding of a public library in a community which is willing to support it as a municipal institution,” writes Andrew Carnegie in his autobiography (1920). Carnegie founded the first library in his hometown, Dunfermline, Scotland in 1883. Above the door in lieu of Carnegie’s coat of arms (he had none) a rising sun was carved, shedding its rays on the motto: “Let there be light.” Carnegie’s philosophy Andrew Carnegie believed that charity should not be handed to passive recipients but should aim at addressing the causes of poverty and misery. According to Carnegie, the philanthropist should “stimulate the best and most aspiring poor of the community to further their efforts for their own improvement.” He saw the establishment of his libraries as a means to stimulate communities into taking their betterment into their own hands. “I do not wish to be remembered for what I have given, but for that which I have persuaded others to give.”

Establishment of libraries

How a Carnegie Library was established A town wishing for a Carnegie donation to establish a library had to apply to Carnegie, stating whether there was a need for a public library, whether a building site was available and whether the town would agree to provide 10 per cent of costs to secure the library’s operation. Carnegie expected people to pay for the library though taxation and he did not give money all at once but gradually throughout the duration of the built. Carnegie libraries, design and locations Carnegie libraries were of an innovative design in that they allowed users to browse through the creation of open book stacks. The librarian’s desk was always placed centrally to the reading room, allowing people to ask questions and communicate. They were built in different styles ranging from Italian Renaissance to Spanish Colonial. Over 2,500 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929 of which 1,689 were in the U.S.A. Many of these libraries have since then been converted to museums, offices and residences but many still serve the communities for which they were created.

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